Although H. Montgomery Hyde (P 1921 – 25) is not now a household name he was one of the most influential Sedberghians of the twentieth century. Hyde’s work to campaign for reform of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 which made homosexual acts criminal as well as his writings about homosexuality elevated him to international renown.
Hyde came to Sedbergh School from Belfast where his father was a linen merchant and Unionist councillor. From early childhood he was exposed to hot headed political debate and was encouraged to take part in direct action campaigns. His family were involved in gun running for the Ulster Volunteer Force and as a child Hyde was used as a dummy casualty for first-aid practice. He entered Sedbergh on a scholarship and excelled academically winning form prizes year after year as well as a science prize. In his final year he gained a Pakenham Scholarship to Belfast University.
After studying Law and practicing briefly in London he became Librarian and Private Secretary to the Marquess of Londonderry. In 1939 he joined the British Army Intelligence Corps serving first as a Censor in Gibraltar and later in counter-espionage work in America.
In 1950 Hyde was selected to be MP for North Belfast. He ruffled feathers from his very first speech which outlined the difficulties of enforcement of Northern Ireland family maintenance orders in Great Britain. During the 1950’s he worked with the Council of Europe Consultative Assembly in Strasbourg on simplifying visa and border controls.
Throughout the 1950’s Hyde campaigned to decriminalise homosexuality. In 1957 the committee responsible for writing the Wolfenden Report recommended that ‘homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence’. Hyde fought for a parliamentary debate on the report which had been greeted with much animosity by his parliamentary colleagues. He argued strongly in favour of the report findings including reforming the law that had made homosexual acts a crime.
As a result of his outspoken campaign Hyde was deselected by the Ulster Unionist Party. The vote to decide whether or not he would be reselected took place while he was travelling in South America. He lost the vote by 19 votes and commented that it was a ‘rank discourtesy holding the meeting without him’. A contemporary source suggested that if he had been present and able to campaign on his own behalf then the result could have swung the other way.
In 1972 Hyde wrote the first history of homosexuality in Great Britain and Ireland, ‘The Other Love’. The book was published internationally under a range of titles. In America it was called ‘The love that dared not speak its name: a candid history of homosexuality in Britain’. The book was supported by the Homosexual Law Reform Society which had provided case studies which were discussed in combination with legal documentation. He wrote extensively about the trials of Oscar Wilde and other men within Wilde’s peer group.
After his death in 1989 many of his personal papers were deposited with the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. He gave his extensive library to Sedbergh School.
Katy de la Rivière